PHO705 Week 14: Tim Cresswell

For the next few weeks I will be posting the results of my background research. I have read quite a few texts over the past two months, but without a clearer idea of the intent and direction of my FMP the texts did not make a great deal of sense. It was difficult to apply them to my practice. Now that I have a better idea of my practice, the texts make much more sense.

First off is a book by the geographer Tim Cresswell: Place: An Introduction (Cresswell 2014).

Place is a very slippery concept. Traditionally, it was felt to consist of three things: a location, a locale (the material setting for social relations) and a sense of the place itself (the subjective and emotional feelings that people have about it). In this way a place could become a meaningful location. However, in recent years each one of those elements has been picked away and shown to be much more problematic than might appear. On a simple level, for example, there is no actual need for a specific location: a ship is a place but its location changes. And a sense of the place itself may derive not from any physical location but from the sense of the network of social relations that are embodied there, as in a sprawling market. This could be in Lagos, but it could also be on Amazon or Ebay.

Landscape is an idea closely allied to place. However, landscape is a fairly recent concept dating back to the Renaissance and in its modern form deriving from the Dutch word landschap which referred specifically to paintings of natural or rural scenes. Thus the idea of landscape began as a painterly, cultural and intensely visual idea. Landscape today is used in quite different ways and can encompass almost any scene, rural, industrial or urban (see Alexander 2015). But there is one key point about all these ideas. The viewer is always outside the landscape, looking in (see Fig. 1). The same is true of photographs and paintings. Place, however, is about being there, on the inside. As Cresswell puts it, ‘We do not live in landscapes – we look at them’ (Cresswell 2014: 18).

Fig. 1: Ansel Adams
Fig. 1: Ansel Adams c. 1960. ‘Cathedral Peak and Lake, Yosemite National Park, California’. This is a traditional, formally composed landscape of the natural sublime, but the viewer is very much on the outside looking in and looking at which is not the same as being there.

This is a challenge photographically because if you concentrate only on the topography, how can you give an impression of what it is like to be there and live there? Anyone trying to portray rural communities will encounter this problem. Arguably, this challenge also lies behind much modern landscape photography (and in fact, I would argue, defeats it). An image may look lovely, even sublime, but at the same time it can be curiously lifeless and uninvolving because we are only ‘looking at’, with no sense of the particular pungency of the place itself. Cresswell uses the example of a novel by Bernard Williams (Border Country, 1960) in which Matthew, the central character, returns to the place of his childhood: ‘He had forgotten the qualities of life that made it a “place” and replaced it in his mind with a “landscape”. What follows is an examination of the gap between the idea of the village as a “landscape” and the idea of the village as a lived and felt “place”’ (Cresswell 2014: 17). See Fig. 2.

Fig. 2: Jem Southam 1989.
Fig. 2: Jem Southam 1989. This is an image from his book The Red River, about a Cornish valley. In that book, Southam made a conscious attempt to give an impression of what it is like to live there and be there. He resisted the fallback of simply depicting the topography as a series of landscapes. He tried to portray a place, not just a landscape.

Another aspect of place is that a place only comes into being as the result of human intervention. Creswell makes this point using a poem by Wallace Stevens, ‘Anecdote of the Jar’ (Creswell 2014: 28):

I placed a jar in Tennessee
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

It is easy to forget that something is where it is for a reason and the fact of its being there changes everything about the area. This is another challenge photographically because it is easy to take for granted that what we see is just the way things are. However, that is not the case. A ‘wilderness’ comes into being only in contrast to a city or town. A cathedral spire is not merely a pleasing prospect, as in a Constable painting. The spire is a strong statement about the beliefs and world view of those who built it. Art is frequently co-opted in this way. Gormley’s ‘The Angel of the North’ both creates a place and makes a statement, as does any public statue. But then so does a Roman Triumphal Arch, and so often the statement is one of imperialism and power relations. A village church may look ‘pretty’ but its history as an instrument of social control and coercion is not. See Fig. 3.

Fig. 3: Simon Roberts 2009.
Fig. 3: Simon Roberts 2009. Untitled. This is an image from Roberts’ book We English. There is humour in this image, but the image’s components attempt to locate landscape in a place and culture. The landscape here is as much industrial as natural. There is a hint in the golfers of the English countryside as a middle-class playground. Culturally, there is the suggestion of English ‘stiff upper lip’ as the golfers try to ignore all that ugliness in the background and instead play up and play the game. There are many messages in this image and few of them are about conventional landscape photography.

As Cresswell points out, place can never be looked at only from a single point of view: ‘Regional geographers talk about places as discrete areas of land with their own ways of life. Humanists and philosophers write of place as a fundamental way of being in the world. Radical geographers investigate the way places are constructed as reflections of power.’ (Cresswell 2014: 55). There is a tension here that I need to hold in mind as a photographer. I can show a place as an assembly of objects, but at least for some viewers that place may also evoke a deeper primal need to belong or, on the contrary, a revulsion at the power relations suggested.

This is important, I think, in any project involving the English countryside, long the theatre of relations between master and servant, have and have-not, landowner and everyone else. In this regard, see also Liz Wells on ‘Pastoral Heritage: Britain Viewed Through a Critical Lens’ (Wells 2011: 161–208). My area of study, for example, is strong marked by the consequences of periods of social and economic change. As Creswell points out, capital is free-flowing (and today is globally so), but most people are not. In fact many may have a deep psychological need to belong and an identity that derives from remaining in a particular place: ‘So the permanence of place and the mobility of capital are always in tension and places are constantly having to adapt to conditions beyond their boundaries’ (Cresswell 2014: 93).

This perfectly expresses the conflicts that arose in my area of study in the sixteenth century, as farming experienced economic changes and a new class of merchants and entrepreneurs moved into agriculture and ‘property development’. Rural communities found themselves pushed out by land enclosures and large-scale sheep pasturage. Villages became deserted (like Water Eaton in my area of study) and on a wider scale this soon manifested as a social fear of vagrancy. Governments cracked down with harsh laws against vagabonds or ‘masterless men’ – in reality the displaced rural poor – thus exacerbating a problem they themselves had created by licensing the activities of a new entrepreneurial class in the first place. ‘The vagabond’s wayward travels meant that he always had traces of elsewhere about him which disturbed those who had chosen a settled and rooted existence – the vagabond threatened to undo the comforts of place and transgressed the expectations of a sedentarist metaphysics (Cresswell 2014: 175).

The remarkable thing is how little things have changed in intervening centuries. The essential dynamics are still there. The countryside today still belongs to landowners and the wealthy middle class. Villages and the rural poor are still threatened by changes in farming (now, ‘agribusiness’) and entrepreneurial property development. Community resources are still enclosed, as sports fields and Green Belt land are sold off for large-scale housing schemes. Governments still largely side with money and prioritize change and mobility over settled rural communities.

A reading of this book has helped me to see that ‘place’ is a rich, complex and overall remarkable thing. It is also something with a history. When we look at a place, we are also looking at the history of the economic and social relations that have made it the place it is. The challenge as always is how to represent this photographically in my area of study. At the moment, this is looking to be rather a forbidding challenge but at least I now feel that when I look at something I am able to take a view that is much more aware and informed.

References

ALEXANDER, J.A.P. 2015. Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography. London: Fairchild Books.

AUGÉ, Marc. 2008. Non-places : an Introduction to Supermodernity. 2nd English ed. London: Verso.

CRESSWELL, Tim. 2014. Place: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Son.

WELLS, Liz. 2011. Land Matters : Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London: I. B. Tauris, 161–208

Figures

Figure 1. Ansel ADAMS. c. 1960. ‘Cathedral Peak and Lake, Yosemite National Park, California, c. 1960’. From: Christie’s. 2019. ‘Ansel Adams and the American West: Photographs from the Center for Creative Photography’. Available at: https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6244536 [accesssed xx xx 2021].

Figure 2. Jem SOUTHAM. 1989. Untitled. From: Jem Southam, D. M. Thomas, F. A. Turk and Jan Ruhrmund. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

Figure 3. Simon ROBERTS. 2009. Untitled. From: Simon Roberts and Stephen Daniels. 2009. We English. London: Chris Boot Ltd.

PHO705 Week 13: Willie Doherty

I have been looking at Willie Doherty’s dark, brooding and highly atmospheric practice in both still images and video installations. Nearly all of his work has been on Derry and ‘The Troubles’ but that doesn’t mean Doherty’s practice is not of much wider appeal. It is. The weight of history, fear, violence, sectarianism, hope, despair, inequality, colonialism – these exist in every society in the world.

The main lessons I draw from Doherty’s practice in relation to my own, and in particular to my FMP, are these:

The Past Haunts the Present
A landscape or an image may mean little to a viewer, manifesting as simply another piece of countryside or an unremarkable ‘non-place’. Just one small piece of information, however, can transform our understanding with the result that we will never look at that scene or at that image in the same way again. Two examples from Doherty’s practice: Fig. 1 is ‘A Fork in the Road’ of 2010, an unprepossessing scene until we learn that this is the spot where a body was dumped after a paramilitary execution. Fig. 2 is a classic, scrappy, urban non-place, until we learn that this is where paramilitary kneecappings are carried out.

Willie Doherty 2010. 'A Fork in the Road'.
Fig. 1: Willie Doherty 2010. ‘A Fork in the Road’. Our whole reading of the image changes when we learn that this was the scene of a murder.
Fig. 2: Willie Doherty 2013. 'Remains
Fig. 2: Willie Doherty 2013. ‘Remains (Kneecapping behind Creggan Shops)’. Another image whose meaning entirely depends on the information we are given. On its own, the image is neutral and shows a typical ‘non-place’.

Non-places become places when they are imbued with human meaning, and Doherty is a master at suggesting this. In other works, he has taken the idea much further as in his video installation Ghost Story of 2007 (see Fig. 3). The past haunts what we see, a past of pain and suffering even though the details are indistinct. The voice of the narrator is both a ghost and memory. The shock, I think, comes from realizing that this could be us and in some sense is us. We may not have been to this particular place nor suffered like that, but we all have similar ghosts and ghostly places and they haunt us, too, in exactly the same way.

Ghost Story 2007 by Willie Doherty
Fig. 3: Willie Doherty 2007. ‘Ghost Story’. A still from a video installation whose subject is the way the past and memory haunt the present.

Showing the past in the present is a subtle process. It can only work by suggestion, allusion, hints and guesses that slowly coalesce because that is how the human mind works. Anything else is agitprop by comparison.

This is a very important part of my current practice, because I am trying to show traces of the past in the present, a past that in some cases is about 400 years old and in which there lie buried painful and traumatic moments – torture and death in the very places I bring my camera to.

The Slippery Image
Doherty’s practice has often made use of words and signs, sometimes overprinted on the image itself. They are brief and usually ambiguous, challenging us not to take what we see at face value but think to more carefully about the implications of what the image shows, implications that usually stretch back into Irish history and British colonialism. ‘Typically for Doherty’s work the signposts offered by the titles misdirect rather than guide’ (IMMA 2021).

This is the classic interplay in all photography between denotation and connotation. As Roland Barthes described, the photograph is a message without a code’ (Barthes 1977: 17) that has been ‘worked on, chosen, composed, constructed, treated according to professional, aesthetic or ideological norms which are so many factors of connotation; while on the other, this same photograph is not only perceived, received, it is read, connected more or less consciously by the public that consumed it to a traditional stock of signs’ (Barthes 1977: 19).

The power of the photographic image always lies in this essential ambiguity. What an image actually shows may be very different from the assumptions and associations we bring to what we see, usually unconsciously. Doherty neatly makes this point in ‘Border Incident’ (see Fig. 4). We pick up the image’s title and immediately apply a sinister reading to the image, assuming it must show the aftermath of a bombing or paramilitary violence of some kind. The image might show that, but Doherty pointed out at the time that it might equally well show no more than a burnt-out abandoned car that someone has dumped there. We are kept guessing.

Willie Doherty Border Incident 1994
Willie Doherty 1994. ‘Border Incident’. A sinister scene of paramilitary violence or simply a wrecked car? The viewer is left to decide. The image itself is neutral.

Non places become places when imbued with the meanings we give them, but we need to be aware of what those meanings are and where we may have obtained them.

Less is More
Doherty’s images are usually simple, bare, stripped down to essentials and they don’t show people. This is a deliberate choice and I would imagine that it requires careful very attention to framing and the elimination of unnecessary ‘furniture’ (stray branches, discarded items and so on). In Doherty’s words: ‘I wanted to show less and tell more’ (Maris 2015).

Show Not Tell
Overall, Doherty’s practice is ‘show not tell’ and it challenges much of what we take to be conventional landscape practice. These are almost all landscape images (or video installations) but these are hardly the landscapes one might find in a tourist brochure. Doherty’s work has often been compared to Paul Graham’s Troubled Land (Graham 1987) in this regard and I think there is a lot to learn from both photographers. An example is Graham’s ‘Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast’ in Fig. 5, an apparently conventional frame of an urban scene whose disturbing implications – soldiers, graffiti, damage – only become clear after contemplating the image for a while.

Paul Graham 1984. 'Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast'
Fig. 5: Paul Graham 1984. ‘Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast’, from Troubled Land. An apparently conventional landscape image with troubling signs if you look.

References

BARTHES, Roland and Stephen HEATH. 1977. Image Music Text. London: Fontana.

GRAHAM, Paul, Gerry BADGER and Declan MCGONAGLE. 1987. Troubled Land: The Social Landscape of Northern Ireland. London: Grey Editions with Cornerhouse Publications.

IMMA. 2021. ‘Willie Doherty – Border Incident (1994)’. IMMA [online]. Available at: https://imma.ie/collection/border-incident/ [accessed 6 April 2021].

MARIS, Jacqueline. 2015. ‘Willie Doherty – Finished’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uOabhkLnjY [accessed 8 April 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. Willie DOHERTY. 2010. ‘A Fork in the Road’. From Willie Doherty. 1986-2012. To the Border. Kerlin Gallery [online]. Available at: https://www.kerlingallery.com/exhibitions/willie-doherty_1/exhibition_works/7/479 [accessed 6 April 2021].

Figure 2. Willie DOHERTY. 2013. ‘Remains (Kneecapping behind Creggan Shops)’. Kerlin Gallery [online]. Available at: https://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/willie-doherty/artist_works/24 [accessed 6 April 2021].

Figure 3. Willie DOHERTY. 2007. ‘Ghost Story’. TATE [online]. From Willie Doherty. 2007. Ghost Story. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/doherty-ghost-story-t12957 [accessed 8 April 2021].

Figure 4. Willie DOHERTY. 1994. ‘Border Incident’. IMMA [online]. Available at: https://imma.ie/collection/border-incident/ [accessed 7 April 2021].

Figure 5. Paul GRAHAM. 1984. ‘Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast’. From Paul Graham, Gerry Badger and Declan McGonagle. 1987. Troubled Land : The Social Landscape of Northern Ireland. London: Grey Editions with Cornerhouse Publications.

PHO705 Week 13: Caponigro, Meyerowitz, NFTs

I have been to several online talks in the last ten days.

The first talk was ‘What Printing Can Do for You’ with John Paul Caponigro (Caponigro 2021), someone whose website I have often consulted not least for the many interviews with photographers.

I have not done much printing, and I would like to more, so this talk hosted by the Photographers’ Gallery was a good fit. Caponigro listed a long series of reasons to make prints, many of which I had not thought about. In his view, a print is durable, scaleable (in terms of size), sensual (it is tactile) and exclusive (you can limit the number of prints). Prints can also form hand-made books, gifts, marketing information and so on. There are many uses for the print beyond display on a friendly wall.

What I had not thought of is that in Caponigro’s view a print can lead to a different experience of photography. It helps the photographer to make a statement and the viewer to connect to the image. It obliges one to look more carefully, and in very large prints one can ‘wander around’ and look at details in a way that is not possible online. A print allows the photographer to decide what is important (dodging and burning to draw out or suppress parts of an image, for example, or choice of materials). Above all, a print brings with it a context. The photographer can decide where and how the print is received through choice of size, venue and framing. Caponigro was particularly interesting on framing a print: the importance of treating the frame as a transition zone and of matching frame to context by first checking the space where the print will be displayed.

These aspects of the print help one to share experiences and thereby (one hopes) build relationships. This is a very important element in ‘putting it out there’ and taking a more commercial and professional approach to one’s practice.

Caponigro also covered a list of technical details: what to look for when assessing a print and how best to make one. I won’t go into that, not least because the world of the print and its role in connecting to customers, contacts and friends are what really mattered in this talk.

The second talk was ‘Photographer Talk: Joel Meyerowitz’ (Meyerowitz 2021). In a way, this was a trip down Nostalgia Lane. Meyerowitz has long been something of a hero of mine but the world that characterized much of his best photography – street life circa 1960-1990 – has now gone forever.

However, Meyerowitz has always been preternaturally talented as a visual artist, with an ability to pick out compositions and significant moments in an almost entirely instinctual way (see Fig. 1). As he said in the talk, ‘I like to be in places where things are coming together and falling apart in the moment. … You frame the elements of life that are most exciting to you at that moment’ (Meyerowitz 2021). The keyword here is ‘exciting’, not merely interesting, intellectually stimulating, satirical or conceptual. Meyerowitz’s best classic street photography is a visceral response to the world, and sometimes a hard-hitting one, as was Robert Frank’s. It was Frank who inspired Meyerowitz to become a photographer.

Fig. 1: Joel Meyerowitz 1999
Fig. 1: Joel Meyerowitz 1999. ‘New York City, 1999’.

I have always admired Meyerowitz’s ability to reinvent himself and change when necessary. Most photographers are good at a single thing and there is no doubt that classic street photography is what Meyerowitz will be remembered for. However, not long after Meyerowitz had established himself on the streets of New York he branched out into a very different genre: environmental and landscape photography using an 8” x 10” view camera. This eventually found expression in his book Cape Light (Meyerowitz 2015), among other works.

Fig. 2: Joel Meyerowitz 1976
Fig. 2: Joel Meyerowitz 1976. ‘Dairyland, Provincetown, Cape Cod, 1976’.

Meyerowitz said in his talk that he begun to feel trapped in photographing ‘incidents’ on the street. He wanted to explore what he called the ‘colour field’, ‘field photography’ and ‘deep space’. He wanted, he said, to produce ‘as immersive an experience as a Rothko’ (Meyerowitz 2021). There are echoes of Stephen Shore in this. Shore was also using a view camera in the same period and talked of ‘filling the frame with attentionality’ (Shore 2018). Perhaps this was a cultural change, or the zeitgeist or perhaps the influence of John Szarkowski who knew both photographers well.

As Teju Cole has pointed out, ‘The renovation of photography’s possibilities happens generationally. But within this slow evolution are faster cycles, certain artists who keep it moving so that their individual oeuvres come to constitute mini-histories of photography: artists like Paul Strand, Berenice Abbott and Joel Meyerowitz’ (Cole 2018).

There is heavy pressure on photographers today to be specialists and to market themselves as brands that are finely honed to a single thing. Social media like Instagram pushes the same idea, as does the teaching establishment. It is not always helpful. Not everyone can manage a narrow specialization, and if one can’t then I think one should simply accept it rather than spend years trying to be something one is not. Meyerowitz’s landscapes are not his best work, in my view, but they are pretty darn impressive even so. One could say the same of Don McCullin’s late landscapes of Somerset. Ansel Adams took plenty of portraits as well as the landscapes for which he is remembered. Nadav Kander is a rare photographer who seems equally adept in both worlds: portraiture and environmental photography.

Teju Cole again: ‘In reading artists, we ought to focus more on what they intend than on the stylistic gestures that help us identify their works. Meyerowitz is certainly stylish — there is always a formal clarity in his work — but he can’t be pinned down to two or three styles. His oeuvre is as varied as any among contemporary photographic masters, but this is not a matter of restlessness. The variety is organically related to whatever he is exploring at any given point. He changes because he must’ (Cole 2018).

Joel Meyerowitz would never go quietly into someone else’s box.

The third talk this week was on ‘NFTs and Photography’ with Marco De Mutiis and Jon Uriarte, part of a series of talks on contemporary issues in photography hosted by Self Publish, Be Happy (De Mutiis and Uriarte 2021). However, the subject was so complicated that I still do not understand it and will have to do much more research and reading. In brief, De Mutiis and Uriarte thought that NFTs (and associated blockchain technology) are still in an unregulated Wild West phase, attracting a lot of scams and publicity hounds but not yet much of significance in terms of art and photography (finance is a different matter). That will come, and it will be very important, but a framework and an internationally recognised legal structure are needed first. In the meantime, when asked whether they would buy an NFT as a work of art, both speakers said No, which is rather a give-away. The best question of the evening was on how and whether Richard Prince could devise a way to ‘re-photograph’ an NFT artwork and profit from the result.

References

CAPONIGRO, John Paul. 2021. ‘Wonderful Things Printing Can Do for You and Your Images’. RPS Digital Imaging [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b9ID8DNKZg [accessed 28 April 2021].

COLE, Teju. 2018. ‘Joel Meyerowitz’s Career Is a Minihistory of Photography’. New York Times [online]. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/magazine/joel-meyerowitzs-career-is-minihistory-of-photography.html [accessed 3 May 2021].

DE MUTIIS, Marco and John URIARTE. 2021. ‘NFTs and Photography’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/spbh [accessed 30 April 2021].

MEYEROWITZ, Joel. 2021. ‘Photographer Talk: Joel Meyerowitz’. Photographers’ Gallery [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8eXa9rhCzM [accessed 3 May 2021].

SHORE, Stephen. 2018. ‘How to See: The Photographer with Stephen Shore’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T029CTSO0IE [accessed 23 Jan 2020].

Figures

Figure 1: Joel MEYEROWITZ. 1999. ‘New York City, 1999’. From: Meyerowitz, Joel. 2021. Wild Flowers. Revised ed. Bologna: Damiani.

Figure 2: Joel MEYEROWITZ. 1976. ‘Dairyland, Provincetown, Cape Cod, 1976’. From: Meyerowitz, Joel. 2015. Cape Light. Revised ed. New York: Aperture.

PHO705 Week 11: Back to Basics

I am attending some workshops from a series online curated by the Royal Photographic Society. They are called Creativity Live and are hosted by Jon Cunningham, a professional photographer and teacher (Cunningham 2021).

I thought it would be useful to get back to the basics of photography skills. Looking generally at the leading photography websites such as BJP online, LensCulture, Aperture and so forth has begun to make me uneasy. The reason is that it is too easy to ‘go conceptual’ and talk about the meaning of a photograph without considering whether, as a photograph, it is actually any good. So the temptation here – and I am certainly as prone to this as anyone – is to think that mediocre work can be magically raised a notch by intellectual discourse. It is important for me to get back to the basics: what makes a good photograph and how do I take one?

The first workshop was on ‘What Makes a Good Photograph’. It was pointed out that in 2019 1.4 trillion images were taken, 75 per cent more than a decade ago.  However, the average ‘dwell time’ online for an image – the time a viewer spends looking at it – is now only 1.7 seconds, down from twice that five years ago. This means that it is more important than ever to take care that one’s work stands out from the crowd, and that one is informed enough to be able to sift through the images of others and feel confident that one has identified the images that matter.

Jon pointed to three main things here. First, I need to check that my attention is fully engaged when looking at an image. Second, I need to assess its competence against standard technical criteria such as exposure, framing, colour, focus and so on. Third, and very importantly, I need to look for an X factor by asking myself whether the image educates me or shows me a new perspective on something, whether it creates an arresting atmosphere that draws me in, and whether it stirs an emotion, a connection. This ‘Creative Review’ is the essence of what makes a good photograph,

An image can be technically excellent – most digital images these days are – but if it fails a Creative Review then it is a snap, not a photograph.

The second workshop was on ‘How to Spot a Signature Style’. It sounds easy. Cartier-Bresson had a distinctive style, as did Avedon or Penn. Contemporary photographers with well-known styles include Martin Parr and Steve McCurry. To them I would add Nadav Kander for his landscapes (see Figs 1 and 2). Jon suggested that one needs to assess a photographer’s work in terms of whether 1) it is visually distinctive, 2) whether it is unusual or distinctive in content, 3) whether it combines both of these elements, or 4) whether it has neither of them. Most images have either the first or the second. A few have both. Images that have neither have no style.

Fig. 1: Nadav Kander 2014.
Fig. 1: Nadav Kander 2014. Untitled. Kander’s images of ruined Soviet nuclear sites are distinctive for their bleakness, their consistent tonality and colour palette, and their careful treatment of human scale in the landscape.
Fig. 2: Nadav Kander 2006
Fig. 2: Nadav Kander 2006. ‘Chongqing VII (washing bike), Chongqing Municipality, 2006’. As in his other landscape works. Kander’s images of China retain a distinct personality in their mood, tonality and colour palette, and in their careful treatment of human scale in the landscape.

But for a photographer, acquiring a style is very hard and usually requires years of work until the photographer is experienced enough to be making the images that only he or she could make. And, in any case, how useful is a style? It tends to be important only in certain genres and a fixed style can be counter-productive if it blocks personal change. Many of the photographers interviewed in Photowork (Wolf 2019) repudiated having a fixed style at all, for example.

There are other issues here, too. The financial impact of the internet has sometimes made it more difficult for photographers to evolve a style because cut-backs mean that agencies and publications are keener than they were to stick to in-house styles and rules, and they are far less prepared to take risks and license experiments. So having a distinctive style is likely to mean breaking the rules, but the paradox is that unless you are prepared to break the rules you have little chance of being noticed anyway.

Jon cited the brilliant young photographer Jack Davison as an example of how to get this right. Davison’s style is one of constant energy and experimentation (see Fig. 1) that emerged from a long American road-trip in which he was able to work without boundaries. In other words, the key ingredients here are play, experimentation and a willingness to make mistakes. In Davison’s case this has taken him to  Vogue and the New York Times.

Fig. 3: Jack Davison 2021
Fig. 3: Jack Davison 2021. ‘Work: 6/34’. Davison’s work is notable for its boldness, energy and experimentation. There are no rules here.

I enjoyed this workshop. It was all about encouraging one to produce work that stands out and suggesting ways to start on that journey. In a world that produces 1.4 trillion images annually, there is no hope of getting on and getting noticed unless one is doing one’s best to produce work that really does stand out.

References

CUNNINGHAM, Jon. 2021. ‘Creativity Live Series’. Royal Photographic Society [online]. Available at: https://rps.org/news/bristol/2021/february/creativity-live-series-jon-cunningham/ [accessed 27 March 2021].

DAVISON, Jack. 2021. ‘Jack Davison: Photographer’. Jack Davison [online]. Available at: https://www.jackdavison.co.uk/ [accessed 10 Apr 2021].

WOLF, Sasha (ed.). 2019. Photowork: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice. First edit. New York, NY: Aperture.

Figures

Figure 1. Nadav KANDER. 2014. Untitled. From: Nadav Kander and Will Self. 2014. Nadav Kander: Dust. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz.

Figure 2. Nadav KANDER. 2010. ‘Chongqing VII (washing bike), Chongqing Municipality, 2006’. From: Nadav Kander. 2010. Yangtze, The Long River. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

Figure 3. Jack DAVISON. 2021. ‘Work: 6/34’. From: Jack Davison. 2021. ‘Jack Davison: Photographer’. Jack Davison [online]. Available at: https://www.jackdavison.co.uk/ [accessed 10 Apr 2021].

PHO705 Week 11: Peer Reviews

Some of us in the German Bight cohort recently arranged to hold one-to-one peer reviews of each other’s work. I teamed up with Victoria Smith. We each spent a few days reading the other’s CRJ and reviewing work in progress, then we shared our impressions in a Zoom call.

I found the process immensely helpful. I think it was Martin Parr who said that when it comes to reviewing one’s images, the easiest person to fool is oneself. For a photographer, it is too easy to become caught up in the experience of making the image and to forget that a viewer will come to the image in a much more objective way. This is why culling one’s darlings during curation can be so difficult.

Victoria suggested that I might find it helpful to involve myself more with my peers and the cohort. She is quite right: I have a tendency to be a loner and can often forget to connect with others. She also suggested that I might find it helpful to look more at the work of other photographers in a similar field to that of my Final Major Project. This is another spot-on suggestion. In fact I have looked at several photographers by now, such as Keith Arnatt, John Gossage, Fay Goodwin, Lucas Foglia, Chloe Dewe Mathews and Willie Doherty, but I have not yet written them up in my CRJ. In addition, not all of them are current practitioners, engaged in the kind of project I might see covered in the British Journal of Photography or in Aperture, or shown in an online talk. While it is very important to be aware of the major past photographers in one’s field, it is one’s now-active peers that contextualize the work one produces and against which one is likely to be measured. This feeds into commercial considerations when it comes to pitching for work or entering competitions, for example.

Further suggestions included considering my audience more fully, looking at including historical artefacts in my work such as old maps, paintings, woodcuts, implements and so on, and looking at more fluid and flexible layouts. Finally, Victoria suggested that I look at the work of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in, for example, Liquid Modernity (Bauman 2000) – a new field for me and so very helpful.

So overall, a great meeting. I only hope that my suggestions to Victoria with her own practice were as useful. Her own Final Major Project, Uncanny Bodies, is completely different from mine (Smith 2021). But this just made the process more interesting and more challenging. It is always good to be stretched by considering new things outside one’s comfort zone and, besides, her work has led me appreciate some wonderful photographers such as Viviane Sassen and Annie Collinge.

References

BAUMAN, Zygmunt. 2000. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

SMITH, Victoria. 2021. ‘Critical Research Journal, Photography MA’. Victoria Smith [online]. Available at: https://photographycriticalresearchjournal.wordpress.com/ [accessed 6 April 2021].

PHO705 Week 10: the Oxfordshire Rising II

Although the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 may remain an obscure incident for most people, it nevertheless continues to act as a source of inspiration. Here are three examples:

The first is ‘Black Showers’, a short story based on the Oxfordshire Rising by S. J. Bradley (Bradley 2019) in Resist, a collection of fictionalised accounts of popular uprisings throughout British history (Page 2019). The story concentrates perhaps too much on the grisly aspects of arrest, torture and execution but is completely correct, I think, in showing how those arrested were starving country folk in thrall to a violent and one-sided system of government. The story is followed by a valuable afterword by John Walter (Walter 2019) which brings his original historical research up to date (Walter 1985). As Walter says,

Where the historical record fails to record the emotional timbre of the story (though their anger comes through clearly in the examination of the would-be rebels), the fiction writer’s imagination can remind us of their fear – and of their bravery (Walter 2019).

The second example is Robinson in Ruins, a documentary arts film narrated by Vanessa Redgrave and made by the artist Patrick Keiller (Keiller 2010). This a film about the meaning of landscape; much of it is set within a few miles of my home. There is extensive coverage of the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 and of Hampton Gay and Enslow Hill.

Fig. 1: Patrick Keiller 2010. Film poster for Robinson in Ruins.

Keiller’s interests are not entirely mine but there is considerable overlap. He shot the film in 2010 and is much concerned with the impact of global warming on the Oxfordshire countryside and with the aftermath of the Cold War on the land. He therefore investigates Greenham Common in nearby Berkshire, Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire (both once nuclear-armed airfields) and the cluster of sinister weapons and research facilities on the Oxfordshire–Berkshire borders.

However, Keiller very clearly sees the physical landscape of the film as a metaphor for an economic landscape. Keiller’s landscape is dominated by the Ministry of Defence and American corporations whereas mine is more about unequal social relations and the power of new money flowing from the City of London. Both of us are looking at pollution and at agribusiness. A powerful sequence in the film shot near the village of Beckley (Robert Burton from Beckley was executed for his part in the Oxfordshire Rising) shows combine harvesters at work in a field of wheat while the narrator reminds us than less than half of England’s cereal crop is actually destined for human consumption. Much of the rest goes to feed livestock which one guesses actually means ‘hamburgers and milkshakes from US-owned franchises’.

I am glad I have found Robinson in Ruins. It offers me something I can take care to avoid copying but the film confirms my instinct that the way forward with the Oxfordshire Rising is through metaphor. It is the underlying economic and cultural conditions that matter and from time to time they burst out in public protest whether at Greenham Common or in 1596 at Enslow Hill.

Fig. 2: Patrick Keillor 2012. Cover of The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet, published to accompany the 2012 Tate Britain exhibition The Robinson Institute.

A third example is The Robinson Institute, Keiller’s exhibition at the Tate in 2012 based on at least some of the same body of work. I did not see this, but a book of the exhibition is still available and I plan to obtain a copy (Keiller 2012).

References 

BRADLEY, S. J. 2019. ‘Black Showers’. In Ra PAGE (ed.). Resist: Stories of Uprising. Manchester: Comma Press, 35–47.

KEILLER, Patrick. 2010. Robinson in Ruins. [Film]. Available at: https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-robinson-in-ruins-2010-online [accessed 8 April 2021

KEILLER, Patrick. 2012. The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet. London: Tate Publishing.

PAGE, Ra (ed.). 2019. Resist: Stories of Uprising. Manchester: Comma Press.

WALTER, John. 1985. ‘A “Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596’. Past & Present 107(1), [online], 90–143. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/past/107.1.90 [accessed 29 March 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. Patrick KEILLER. 2010. Film poster for Robinson in Ruins. Available at: https://patrickkeiller.org/robinson-in-ruins-2/ [accessed 9 April 2021].

Figure 2. Patrick KEILLER. 2012. Cover of The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet, published to accompany the 2012 Tate Britain exhibition The Robinson Institute. Available at: https://patrickkeiller.org/the-possibility-of-lifes-survival-on-the-planet/ [accessed 9 April 2021].

PHO705 Week 10: the Oxfordshire Rising

The following is a summary of a meticulous scholarly investigation by the historian John Walter (Walter 1985). It is important to record it here because now that I have found and researched it the story of the Oxfordshire Rising is going to form the backbone of my Final Major Project.

The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 was one of a large number of rural protests that took place all over England in about 1595–7. By 1596 there had been three poor harvests in a row. The price of grain had risen threefold and many rural poor now faced starvation. The government of the time was well aware that a coordinated uprising – another Peasants’ Revolt – would be very difficult to contain. Coming on top of political insecurities such as constant warring with Spain this threat to the nation’s food supply made a fraught situation even worse.

In northern Oxfordshire, another factor was at play: aggressive land enclosures by wealthy landlords, forcing villagers off the land in favour of sheep pasture and thus increasing the pool of landless poor unable to sustain themselves. The enclosers were often aristocrats but were often also ‘new money’, self-made men with little time for the traditional social bonds between landlord and tenant. ‘There is no such thing as society’ is a phrase they would likely have understood very well.

A nexus of contentious and resented enclosures was in a small parcel of land around the villages of Bletchingdon, Hampton Gay, Kidlington, Water Eaton and Yarnton just to the north of Oxford city. Three enclosers, in particular, were at work there: Francis Power in Bletchingdon, Vincent Barry in Hampton Gay and William Frere in Water Eaton. This is almost exactly the area I am already studying for my Final Major Project.

Enter a 28-year-old carpenter called Bartholomew Steer from Hampton Gay. In the autumn of 1596 Steer and a few other young men decided that enough was enough, and they began to solicit support for a general rising in the area against the landlords and to secure desperately needed food supplies. Steer, however, went a step further than similar rebels of the time. Whereas the call in rural areas was usually confined to violence against property – by throwing down the hedges of the enclosers and taking back farmland – Steer advocated a more drastic solution. He called for local landlords to be assassinated and their weapons seized house by house in a progress towards London – at which point, he hoped, the London prentices would join them in a general uprising. Among the top of his list to be ‘spoil’d’ – Steer’s term for executed – were Francis Power and Vincent Barry.

In the event, Steer’s plans were a dismal failure. Records show that he was a thoughtful tactician and eloquent speaker, but the essential problem was that he and a handful of other ‘poor boys’ – angry young village men with no prospects – would never have the authority to persuade large numbers of people to risk everything for political change. Besides, many of Steer’s recorded comments are somewhat fantastical and it remains unclear how serious about ‘spoiling’ he actually was. ‘Work?’, he said to a starving villager, ‘Care not for worke, for we shall have a meryer world shortly; there be lusty fellowes abroade, and I will gett more, and I will work one daie and plaie an other, ffor I know ere yt be long wee shall have a meryer world’ (Walter 1985: 100). This was hardly practical talk in a famine.

Steer aimed to ignite the uprising with a gathering on Enslow Hill (a mile from Hampton Gay) on 17 November 1596, but on that Sunday evening the only people who ever turned up were Steer himself and three companions. Worse was to follow, much worse. Elizabethan society was rife with informers and Vincent Barry at Hampton Gay, Steer’s own Lord of the Manor, had already been alerted. Barry raised a general alarm and within days Steer and others had been arrested and sent to London tied to the backs of horses.

Waiting for them in London was Sir Edward Coke, the attorney general. Coke was convinced that he had uncovered a grave plot and authorized torture ‘for the better bowltinge forth of the truthe’. From now on, matters assumed a terrible inevitability. Statements extracted from the men confirmed to Coke that stern measures were required, if only pour encourager les autres. Four men were subsequently arraigned on charges of high treason, even though some of Coke’s fellow lawyers were uneasy at what may have seemed a disproportionate response to rural braggadocio with no actual action ever arising.

Of the four men charged, only two ever went to full trial. Steer and one companion had already died in prison, either from the torture or from the conditions of incarceration. Judicial proceedings were little more than a kangaroo court. At an assize hearing two of the jurors were landlords from Bletchingdon. A judge at the treason trial was compromised by a familial relationship with Vincent Barry of Hampton Gay: his heir was about to become Barry’s son-in-law.

In the summer of 1597 the Oxfordshire Rising came to a miserable end back on Enslow Hill where it had started. In a final act of barbarity Richard Bradshaw of Hampton Gay and Robert Burton of Beckley were hung, drawn and quartered with proceedings overseen by none other than landlord and encloser William Frere of Water Eaton acting as sheriff.

This is a tremendous if very sad story that John Walter’s meticulous research into contemporary records and court proceedings has now rescued from historical obscurity. The story also has a very surprising outcome. Within a decade, the Elizabethan authorities had reversed their policy on land enclosure and were coming down hard on aggressive landlords. Among the first to be arraigned before the Star Chamber in London for precisely that were Francis Power of Bletchingdon and William Frere of Water Eaton.

Ironically, one of the leading voices in favour of enclosure reform was Sir Edward Coke. Perhaps Coke had a residue of guilt over his harsh treatment of Steer. More probably, he like others in government had realized that a new class of acquisitive and aggressive property-owners could not be allowed to prosper unchecked if the result was social breakdown and possibly catastrophic public disorder. The poor always had to be kept on side. The ghost of Bartholomew Steer would haunt lawmakers for years to come. Arguably it still does. The Cameron government’s austerity programme of 2010-16 fell disproportionately on the poor. The uprising that resulted – this time at the ballot box – was Brexit.

My challenge is how to represent this photographically. I think the only way is to treat the Oxfordshire Rising as a rich layer of metaphor within my own story. To an extent I can take a literal approach, for example by photographing some of the places where these events occurred. However, the real meaning here likes in the metaphor. In photographing a physical landscape I am actually showing an economic landscape. The physical landscape has changed; it is the economic landscape and its social relations that has endured through time.

My research has already indicated that remarkably little has changed since Steer’s day. Many big estates are still there, social inequality has increased noticeably in recent years, and there is an uneasy and sometimes unpleasant relationship between those who own the land and others who happen to live there. Meanwhile government sees the general population as potentially hostile and concentrates mainly on fixing things for its own class of interests. We may no longer have land enclosures of the Tudor kind, but I would argue that the current fashion for offshore financial vehicles, property development and agribusiness is our contemporary version of the same thing. It is essentially a cash grab upon society’s common resources by that same class of aggressive self-interested new money – today, the City of London – that caused all the trouble in the first place. Plus ça change.

References

WALTER, John. 1985. ‘A “Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596’. Past & Present 107(1), [online], 90–143. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/past/107.1.90 [accessed 29 March 2021].

PHO705 Week 9: Online Lectures

Contemporary Photography and the Environment is a talk by the curator Kim Knoppers in Self Publish, Be Happy’s Contemporary Photography series on Vimeo (Knoppers 2021). I found the talk useful because it is something of a survey of contemporary practice in this subject – and it offered several useful ideas.

The first point is that it is important for the photographer to overcome public image fatigue. This affects almost all subjects today but especially those covering global warming and the environment. The days when an image of a polar bear on a melting ice floe could capture attention are long gone.

A second point is that we need to think carefully about what we mean by ‘nature’. This is largely a culturally determined and, today, a contested term. In some ways we live in a nostalgic version of what nature is, evidenced by 1001 wildlife documentaries that show the spectacle but often not the reality. We tend to see nature and culture as opposites, but this is a false binary, and we tend to under-appreciate the relationships involved. These are not only the sometimes very complex relationships between things in the natural world itself but the relationships involved in depicting it and changing our perceptions of it. So the photographer today needs to consider the role of activism and environmental law, for example, and the role of video and sound in producing a work of art.

This is a really helpful message to encourage the photographer to move beyond the static single image. It suggests that compelling works today are likely to be stories based on collaboration between many different interests and artistic techniques.

Knoppers cited several photographers whose work it might pay to study, not least since some of them used mixed media. These include Robert Adams and Joel Sternfeld, with whom I am already familiar, but also Melanie Bonajo, Mark Dorf, Douglas Mandry, Almudena Romero, Lucas Foglia and Fabio Barile. I have already looked at the work of Foglia and Barile and it resonates very strongly with me, particularly Foglia whose career began as a student of Gregory Crewdson.

The overall message of this talk is that essentially we and the planet are all one organism. This is the Gaia hypothesis (Lovelock 1979) and the emphasis is therefore on wholeness. In a world awash with competing theories and a surfeit of images, the challenge for the photographer is that ‘imagination and the camera give us the opportunity to re-enchant a disenchanted world’ (Knoppers 2021).

Many of these ideas bear directly on my current project, particularly the emphasis on moving beyond the static image and into the realm of story-telling and collaboration. The emphasis on examining the culturally determined aspects of what we call ‘nature’ is important too. However, throughout her talk Knoppers emphasized the importance of intimacy. Intimacy builds relationships. Something that is overly conceptual can seem cold and aloof. What the artist needs to aim for is, in her words, ‘clear, detailed and visually seductive’ (Knoppers 2021).

References

KNOPPERS, Kim. 2021. ‘Contemporary Photography and the Environment’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/photographyenvironment?autoplay=1 [accessed 20 Mar 2021].

LOVELOCK, James. 1979. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

PHO705 Week 8: Jem Southam

John Duncan, who reviewed my portfolio in Week 6, suggested that I look at the practice of Jem Southam, particularly The Red River which Southam published in 1989 (Southam et al 1989, Southam 2019). In it, he followed the Red River in Cornwall from source to sea, although in reality the ‘river’ is more of a tin-mining stream coursing through a valley. This is one of Southam’s earlier bodies of work. It has a highly atmospheric, spontaneous, slightly off-kilter feel to it, likely because Southam was using a hand-held camera in contrast to the large tripod-mounted plate cameras that he used for much of his subsequent work.

Southam has spoken interestingly of how he came to approach this subject, in the form of a long talk available online (Southam 2020). He started out wanting a portrait of local distinctiveness, a record or topography of a particular landscape. However, he found that this approach was not really touching the lives of the people who lived in the valley. His project felt ‘flat’ and something was missing.

Fig. 1: Jem Southam 1989
Fig. 1: Jem Southam 1989. From his book The Red River and in this image showing the modern realities of the meeting of pastoral and the industrial sublime.

The key came when Southam was looking at a painting of Manchester in the 1850s by William Wyld (‘Kersal Moor, 1852’), which is all golden light and smoking chimneys, and he realized that what had really been motivating him was the story of pastoral set against the industrial sublime, in fact the painting’s subject. Much of the Red River, too, was a smoky and polluted landscape. At the same time, Southam realized that other stories – he calls them ‘myths’ – had been motivating him unconsciously, in particular Biblical stories and the stories in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which he was re-reading.

This realization enabled Southam to concentrate on specific things in the landscape, or on specific images to frame, because he now understood why he was doing it. He was showing the effects of industrialization on a traditional pastoral landscape and its people far more than he was simply making a portrait of a valley. This was no pastoral childhood wonderland but a mucky and sometimes disturbing reality.

Fig. 2: Jem Southam 1989
Fig. 2: Jem Southam 1989. From his book The Red River. The mucky reality of ‘pastoral’.
Fig. 3: Jem Southam 1989
Fig. 3: Jem Southam 1989. From his book The Red River. More disturbing than ‘beautiful’.

Southam’s realization provided the close, evocative contact his project had lacked until then. Southam believes that these stories exist in all of us. We imbibe them growing up from children’s books or in school or as part of our culture. Some are indeed myths and collectively we have been carrying them for thousands of years. And while we may often carry them unconsciously, they are deeply influential and can affect our attitude to everything we see.

Southam’s talk in this video is a fascinating example of the creative process at work and a reminder that we have to bring the whole of ourselves to a project. Unless we do, the chances are we won’t understand our motivations and so our project, too, may end up lacking because we are not connecting with what our subconscious is telling us.

In another talk online, with time with Martin Parr, Southam points out that ‘the process of developing a piece of work is actually led by the place itself’ (Parr 2019). It is a kind of reverse process that begins by accident, in Southam’s experience. Something draws us to a particular locale, but we do not yet know what. As the images pile up we are confronted by the need to establish why we are drawn to this place, what our work is really about, and how we are going to tell the story.

These are really helpful points to hear and completely relevant to my own project, particularly the clash of pastoral and industrial which is ever-present in the English countryside. I am faced with exactly the questions Southam poses and I need to go through the same process. When I find out why I am doing what I do, then I will begin to know something.

References

PARR, Martin. 2019. ‘Sofa Sessions: Conversations with Martin Parr – Jem Southam’. Martin Parr Foundation [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKKOFCBmaLk [accessed 18 March 2021].

SOUTHAM, Jem, D. M. THOMAS, F. A. TURK and Jan RUHRMUND. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

SOUTHAM, Jem. 2019. ‘Red River’. Thomas Tallis School [online]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/325618049 [accessed 18 March 2021].

SOUTHAM, Jem. 2020. ‘Jem Southam – From Red River to the River Winter’. On Landscape [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vv9vezFysuI [accessed 19 March 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. Jem SOUTHAM. 1989. Untitled. From: Jem Southam, D. M. Thomas, F. A. Turk and Jan Ruhrmund. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

Figure 2. Jem SOUTHAM. 1989. Untitled. From: Jem Southam, D. M. Thomas, F. A. Turk and Jan Ruhrmund. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

Figure 3. Jem SOUTHAM. 1989. Untitled. From: Jem Southam, D. M. Thomas, F. A. Turk and Jan Ruhrmund. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

PHO705 Week 8: Online Lectures

I have attended several online lectures in the past few weeks. The idea is to sample different organizations, to participate in some ‘Lens Culture’ and to get a feel for where contemporary practice is going in different fields. The following are the first two on my list:

Curating Photography with Susan Bright

This was an online talk at the Royal Photographic Society (Bright 2021) and majored on Susan Bright’s experience as curator of Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography (The Photographers’ Gallery 2019) which I visited twice in 2019. Bright emphasized how important it is to study the space for any exhibition, to make maquettes of the layout and to consider how a visitor will move through the rooms and encounter the art. She said that, like good design, the secret of good curation is that it should be invisible, but that it must be complete in every way and in every particular of lighting, colour scheme and hanging. The visitor must feel that they have been carefully considered. Bright said that a good exhibition should ‘shift’ you, in other words that it should take you out of the day-to-day and into something special. She recommended that we look at the work of Katrina Sluis and of the curator Isobel Parker-Philip. Overall, I found this a carefully prepared and very helpful event because it has given me some important curatorial points to follow if (or when) I offer my own gallery exhibition.

One Camera, One Lens and Natural Light – Danny Wilcox Frazier

This talk hosted by the VII Agency was about how to go a long way with very simple ingredients (Wilcox Frazier 2021). Wilcox Frazier’s study Driftless – of disadvantaged rural communities in Iowa – was shot on film with one camera, one lens and nothing else. The result is deeply moving (Wilcox Frazier 2007). The key point was that good projects come from being fully immersed in them. There are no shortcuts. Your subjects need to trust you, too: they have to know who the photographer is. You must ‘share of yourself’ in Wilcox Frazier’s words. He emphasized that ‘a clear intent and a stronger voice need to be ever present in your work’. ‘A unique way of seeing’ and ‘a strong individual voice’ are what matter. It is easy to get carried away by technology and the wilder shores of conceptual art, but sometimes it is helpful to be reminded of the bedrock of good photography in a back-to-basics way. I am glad I attended this talk and its dark, powerful images redolent of a Magnum essay by Larry Towell or Matt Black.

Wilcox-Frazier-Driftless
Fig. 1: Danny Wilcox Frazier 2002. Brothers share a smoke at a gun range, Swisher, Iowa.

References

BRIGHT, Susan. 2021. ‘Curating Photography with Susan Bright’. Royal Photographic Society [online]. Available at: https://rps.org/SusanBright [accessed 19 Mar 2021].

THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ GALLERY. 2019. ‘Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography’. The Photographers’ Gallery [online]. Available at: https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/feast-eyes-story-food-photography [accessed 19 Mar 2021].

WILCOX FRAZIER, Danny. 2007. ‘Driftless’. Danny Wilcox Frazier [online]. Available at: https://dannywilcoxfrazier.com/driftless-gallery [accessed 19 Mar 2021].

WILCOX FRAZIER, Danny. 2021. ‘One Camera, One Lens and Natural Light’. VII Agency [online]. Available at: https://viiphoto.com/recordings-resources/ [accessed 19 Mar 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. Danny WILCOX FRAZIER. 2002. ‘Brothers share a smoke at a gun range, Swisher, Iowa’. From: Danny Wilcox Frazier. 2002. Driftless. Available at: https://dannywilcoxfrazier.com/driftless-gallery [accessed 19 Mar 2021].